Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Philosophy (Ph.D)



First Advisor

William F. Chaplin

Second Advisor

Robin Wellington,

Third Advisor

Dana Chesney


Despite knowledge of devastating statistics, it has been observed that when hundreds, or even millions are suffering in large-scale crises, including genocides, refugee crises, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, humans seem unable to process and comprehend the magnitude of that suffering on an emotional level. While the expectation is that compassion should increase proportionally with the number of people suffering in catastrophes, prior research has shown a negative relationship such that as need increases, donations decrease. Some factors that may impact this include the identifiable victim effect, use of emotion regulation strategies, specific cognitive processing styles, and compassion fatigue. This research sought to explore the impact of these factors on decision-making, judgment, and altruism, especially in the face of an ongoing, chronic, and collective trauma (COVID-19). A sample of 993 participants, primarily Caucasian, English-speaking individuals with a median age of 39-years-old, and with varying education levels, were presented with questions about demographics, COVID-19, use of emotion regulation strategies, and cognitive processing styles. Participants were randomized thrice into conditions for compassion fatigue, emotion regulation strategies, and COVID-19. They were, lastly, asked questions about compassion fatigue and desired donation amount towards a charity. The findings of this study showed that our participants experienced significantly higher levels of compassion fatigue and elected to donate higher amounts- contrary to previous research - which may be a result of this population being amidst an ongoing global catastrophe and trauma. In addition, we found that individuals who had contracted COVID-19 were more likely to donate to others due to the identifiable victim effect. We also found individual differences in how emotion regulation use moderated the connection between compassion fatigue and donation amount. Overall, our findings show the impact of COVID-19 and compassion fatigue on altruism; they also highlight the utility of emotion regulation strategies, whether reappraising thoughts or suppressing emotions, especially during a persisting trauma such as COVID-19. Exploring the impact of compassion fatigue on decision-making, judgment, and altruism is imperative, especially given how these factors affect humans on both a micro and macro scale in terms of global policy, immigration, economic reform, and healthcare.